Who spent that evening with Marylin? Who captured the Tank Man in Tienanmen Square? Who took Kurt Cobain’s portrait two months before his death? For his book Behind Photographs: Archiving Photographic Legends, photographer Tim Mantoani tracked down the masters behind some of our visual history’s most iconic images to rescue them from anonymity. Highlighted in Wired, here are just a few of the 150 portraits of famous photographers holding their famous photographs and sharing stories, like Steve McCurry searching for 17 years to find Sharbat Gula, the young, translucent-eyed girl from Pakistan, the star in his famous Kodachrome… The film costs $200 per shot, and Mantoani has created over 150 of the portraits already since starting the project five years ago.
Find out more about the project, but first, sift through these intentionally analog, enormous 20×24 Polaroid portraits and… respect!
We know you hear over and over aga
in that photography is a dying medium, but when you see the best of the best, there is something really special to be taken in.
“We have come to a point in history where we are losing both photographic recording mediums and iconic photographers,” Mantoani comments. “While many people are familiar with iconic photographs, the general public has no idea of who created them. This book became a means to do that, the photographer and their photograph in one image.”
The Tank Man of Tienanmen Square. Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston in victory. The portrait of the Afghan Girl on the cover of National Geographic. Many of us can automatically recall these photos in our heads, but far fewer can name the photographers who took them. Even fewer know what those photographers look like.
Tim Mantoani hopes to change that by taking portraits of famous photographers holding their most iconic or favorite photos in his new book Behind Photographs: Archiving Photographic Legends. Mantoani has shot over 150 of these portraits in the last five years, most of which are contained in the book.
“I felt like there was kind of this void,” says Mantoani. “There were all these anonymous photographers out there who have not been given enough credit.”
At a time when everyone has a camera in their pocket and millions, if not billions of photos are flying around the internet each day, Mantoani wants to help people understand that iconic photos don’t just happen. They are the product of people who devote their entire lives to photography. Giving these people a face, he says, helps do that.
“It was important to step back and understand that cameras didn’t make these photos, photographers made these photos,” he says. “Without these people and their understanding of photography, these moments would not be there for us to understand and appreciate over the course of time.”
Mantoani, a San Diego-based commercial and editorial photographer who is well known for his portrait work, decided to challenge his own craftsmanship by shooting the portraits on the enormous 20×24 Polaroid format. Only a few 20×24 Polaroid cameras still exist, and the film can be prohibitively expensive — about $200 per shot.
Over the course of the project, some of the photographers who participated passed away. Polaroid went belly up, making 20×24 film that much harder to come by. The weight of each photo’s importance as a historic document became more apparent with each loss.
“We have come to a point in history where we are losing both photographic recording mediums and iconic photographers,” Mantoani says.
Scarcity and history also increased the pressure to produce a quality image. “Digital has allowed you to hold the hammer down and work it out later,” he says. “This process really forced me to go back to my roots and try to get everything perfect before I even made the exposure.”
Some portraits Mantoani nailed on the first shot, others took three or four tries. The process often became a collaboration between Mantoani and his subjects, who offered their own advice.
Steve McCurry, for example, looked at his own first portrait and commented on the amount of space that Mantoani left between his head and the top of the frame. McCurry insisted that Mantoani could do what he wanted, but Mantoani was happy to take the advice — especially considering the source.
“The shoots sometimes became little mini workshops,” Mantoani says.
Some of the photographers not only lent their advice, but also their rolodex. The first few photographers Mantoani worked with were instrumental in getting him access to the larger community. Some photographers still said no, even with the referral. Others, such as Herman Leonard, took a long time to come around.
“When people realized that I wasn’t out to take advantage of them but instead wanted celebrate this group of photographers, they wrapped their arms around the project,” Mantoani said.
The book is the first step in preserving and broadcasting the archive. Mantoani eventually wants the original prints to become part of an exhibition.
“I wanted to create this archive so that some day when the photographers are all gone, my grandkids can not only appreciate their photos, but also know who they were and what they looked like.”
To find out more or purchase a copy of the book, please visit the Behind Photographs website.
Lyle Owerko with his photograph of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Photo credit: Tim Mantoani.
Lyle Owerko: “No one knew such a beautiful warm day would serve as the backdrop to one of the most painful and confusing events to the heart of mankind. This picture is one small part of such a huge event that ties the threads of thousands of stories and millions of people together. Written words will never convey the whole scope of the event, nor even summarize the sounds, the smells or even the voices that are frozen in my memory bank from that day. I did the best job I could in photographing 9/11 so that future generations would have an idea of the scope of what happened, to have the evidence of how innocence can so easily be snatched away in a razor’s edged moment of time. My hope is that in time the wounds and pain will heal and that wisdom and peace will prevail among the darkness of this event, so that humanity can move forward into a time of grace and understanding.”
Jeff Widener with his photo of Tank Man in Tienanmen Square from 1989. Photo credit: Tim Mantoani.
‘“I felt like there was kind of this void,” says Tim Mantoani. “There were all these anonymous photographers out there who have not been given enough credit.”
Mantoani hopes to change that by taking portraits of famous photographers holding their most iconic or favorite photos in his new book Behind Photographs: Archiving Photographic Legends. Mantoani has shot over 150 of these portraits in the last five years, most of which are contained in the book.’
Mark Seliger with his portrait of Kurt Cobain for Rolling Stone. Photo credit: Tim Mantoani.
Mark Seliger: “Originally an inside opener for Rolling Stone cover story of Nirvana in conjunction with the release of In Utero, my first Polaroid (with Negative) was by far the most emotional and revealing of his spirit. Two months later Kurt died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. This photograph became the memorial RS cover.”
Steve McCurry with his 1984 Kodachrome of a young refugee from Afghanistan in Pakistan. Photo credit: Tim Mantoani.
Steve McCurry holds his 1984 photo of a young woman from Peshawar, Pakistan. “I looked for this girl for 17 years and finally found her in 2002. Her name is Sharbat Gula.”
Neil Leifer and his photograph of Ali vs. Liston, May 25, 1965. Photo credit: Tim Mantoani.
Harry Benson with a photo of the Beatles, after Brian Epstein just told them they were number one in America in 1964. Photo credit: Tim Mantoani.
Harry Benson: “Brian Epstein — Beatles’ manager — had just told them they were number one in America, and I was coming with them to New York, 1964.”
Brian Smith: “The magic of photography happens when you don’t see what’s coming next.”
Brent Stirton: “This is Virunga, the first National Park in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Silverback Mountain Gorilla, along with 6 females, had been killed by a group trying to intimidate conservation rangers into being less proactive in their efforts against poaching & illegal charcoal making. There are only about 40 of these Silverbacks in the world, so the Rangers were devastated at the assassination. This procession went on for about 5 kms, moving the 600 pound body over hills & through the forest. Over 120 of these rangers have died in the last 10 years doing this job; most make less than $10 a month. They’re heroes, there’s just no other word that seems appropriate to describe these incredible African men.”
Douglas Kirkland with his portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Photo credit: Tim Mantoani.
Douglas Kirkland: “This is from my Evening with Marilyn.”
Elliot Erwitt with his 1974 photograph taken in New York’s Central Park. Photo credit: Tim Mantoani.
Elliot Erwitt: “The picture I am holding was snapped in 1974 just across the street from my apartment in New York’s Central Park. It has been 38 years since that event and sadly I have lost track of the participants.”
Bill Eppridge with his photo of Robert F. Kennedy after his assassination on June 5, 1968. Photo credit: Tim Mantoani.
Karen Kuehn: “From the 1993 Cats Story shot for National Geographic. The director Thomas Kennedy asked me to shoot an entire story about ‘cats.’ He did not want it to be typical! So problem solving this assignment was good fun. The Russian Blue Cat and Ballerina legs was inspired by George Balanchine — he used the idea of cats landing always on their toes to teach his dancers.”
Mary Ellen Mark: “I am holding my photograph of Ram Prakash Singh and his beloved elephant Shyama — taken in 1990. Ram Prakash Singh was the ringmaster of “The Great Golden Circus.” The photograph was done in Ahmedabad India. This was part of my Indian Circus Project. I love India and I love the circus so photographing eighteen circuses all around India was an incredible experience. Unfortunately, Shyama died a few months after this photograph was taken. Supposedly he succumbed to a poisoned chapatti. Ram Prakash Singh was heartbroken. Me also.”
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